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Can the BIA and volunteer companies work together?

Last week a fire broke out at a house in Wanblee consuming the structure in short order. Fire companies from Kadoka, Long Valley and Interior were called out to fight the fire, but due to the distance and poor road conditions, the house was a complete loss, but thankfully with no loss of life. Around Pine Ridge Reservation, a total of nine small fires were reported, ranging from Red Shirt, to Allen, to Pine Ridge, and one large-scale fire near the Prairie Winds Casino, which burned over 12,000 acres.

Would there be a faster option, perhaps a fire department that could have saved the house?

Well, until 2020, there was.

Late in 2020, word went out regarding contracts the Bureau of Indian Affairs, specifically Fire Protection Agreements, or FPAs, that basically tied the hands of small fire departments on the Reservation. These contracts, between the two, gives the volunteer fire departments the right to fight fires and be reimbursed for responding to needs in these communities. Small firehouses, in return rely on funding to help address issues, say maintaining equipment, fuel costs, and other funding needs. However, if the funding is held up, it can make things difficult for a small company to continue the day-in-day-out operations.

Like the fire company in Wanblee.

A media release, from KEVN TV, gave a good example, when a fire happened near the Wounded Knee Massacre Site, an abandoned Catholic Church burned, and just down the road, a more actively-used church was also burned. While the BIA-affiliated Fire Department in Pine Ridge was there in 20 minutes, all they could do, was douse the fire where it expanded out from the buildings…unable to enter, because they lacked the training and proper equipment. The Martin Fire Department, which is trained to enter burning buildings, arrived an hour after dispatch called for help, arrived too late to save either structure. Given they made the run in 50 minutes, making good time, was of little use, given distance.

Without these FPAs in place, the volunteer departments aren’t able to get reimbursed for responding on trust lands. Likewise, with the amount of fires that have been popping up more recently this summer, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

(Contact Joe Budd at


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